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English Renaissance - Georgian Architecture

( Originally Published 1921 )


It has already been stated that the character of Renaissance architecture depended largely on the personal whim and fancy of the architects (p. 542), but by this period domestic architecture had become fairly standardised in treatment. The essential element in domestic building is to capture the spirit of rest and express it in the house design and appointments. In achieving this purpose, Wren and his disciples were, though perhaps unconsciously, as resourceful as in their more ambitious designs for public buildings. It only remains to describe some of the more important buildings of this period. The demand for houses for the middle classes and for mansions for the aristocracy had, as we have seen, opened a new field of design, even in the time of Inigo Jones and Wren (pp. 716, 726), and in the eighteenth century large numbers of houses were built, and these were of two types.

(a) The simple block plan. —This type of plan was very generally employed, both in town and country, for eighteenth-century houses, in which the hall and staircase occupy the centre, while the rooms are compactly disposed on either side. It was developed from the square block as in Coleshill (p. 737 c), the Queen's House, Greenwich (p. 717 E), and Thorpe Hall (p. 737 M), or from the oblong block, as at Chevening (p. 737 H). The Great House, Burford ; the Moot House, Downton (A.D. 1650, re-modelled 1720) ; the Castle House, Buckingham ; Eagle House, Mitcham ; Fenton House, Hampstead (p. 737 D), and the House in the Close, Salisbury (A.D. 1701) (pp. 737 A, 762 B, L), are representative Georgian houses. Swan House, Chichester (p. 738 A), by some attributed to Wren, has all the familiar characteristics of Georgian houses, which were built for the middle classes, with a basement for kitchen, stores, and servants' quarters. These houses have brick or stone walling, symmetrically disposed sash windows, columned doorways, bold crowning cornices, hipped and dormered roofs, and big chimney-stacks. The comfort of the interior goes hand in hand with the solidity of the exterior, and panelled walls, ornamental plaster ceilings, carved chimney-pieces, and well-designed stair-cases, set off by the beautiful furniture of Chippendale, Sheraton, and the brothers Adam, complete these typical English homes (pp. 741, 769). Every old provincial town furnishes examples of these quiet and dignified houses, often now occupied by local professional men. Both in external symmetry and internal comfort they represent the spirit of an orderly and prosperous community desiring no parade of riches, but intent on comfortable home surroundings.

The Palladian Villa, Chiswick (A.D. 1729), designed by Kent and the Earl of Burlington, although a simple block in plan, is a modified copy of the Villa Capra, Vicenza (p. 599), with a windowless central hall and portico, and proved quite unsuitable to the dull English climate.

Mereworth Castle, Kent (A.D. 1723) (p. 737 G), by Colin Campbell, is also founded on the Villa Capra, Vicenza, and possesses all the defects of the Villa at Chiswick for its purpose as an English country house.

(b) The central block with wings.—This type of plan superseded the E- and H-shaped plans of the previous period, as most suitable for great mansions. The central block has a basement storey, not necessarily below ground, often containing kitchen and domestic offices. The principal floor, with its columned portico, reached by imposing external steps, was devoted to the hall, grand staircase, saloon, and reception rooms, which were usually of noble proportions. As a portico surmounted by a pediment was considered necessary by the owners, the nickname of pediment and portico style " has been given to this type of house. On either side colonnades, sometimes quadrant in form, connected the central block to the wings, which sometimes contained the chapel, library, kitchens, and stables. All the component parts, whether central block, pedimented portico, wings, or colonnades, were designed to give scale and dignity to these stately mansions, which expressed the greatness of England's noble families. This type of plan was on the model of Stoke Park, Northants, by Inigo Jones (p. 716).

Castle Howard, Yorkshire (A.D. 1702–14) (p. 742), by Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor, is a stately palace (p. 742 A), possessing many of the general features already alluded to, with a total length of 66o ft. The plan (p. 742 B) shows a central block, with north entrance to the great hall, 34 ft. square, which is crowned by a dome and flanked by staircases. The saloon beyond, on the central axis, faces the garden, and on either side are the principal rooms. Curved arcades connect the main building with the stable court on the west and the kitchen court on the east. The hall (p. 742 C, D) forms a stately vestibule, with its Composite Order, statues in niches, and arched openings admitting light from the central dome to the main staircase.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire (A.D. 1705) (p. 745), by Sir John Vanbrugh, is the most monumental mansion in England, and was given by the nation to the first Duke of Marlborough. The plan (p. 745 B) (850 ft. long) is designed on axial lines in which symmetry rather than convenience is aimed at. A bold entrance gate led to a great court, three acres in extent, beyond which is the central block, with hall, saloon, internal courts for light, and corridors, which are here extensively used, while on the west is the great gallery, 18o ft. by 22 ft., reminiscent of the Elizabethan long gallery. Right and left on the entrance facade are quadrants and colonnades which connect the main building to the kitchen and stable courts. The great hall (p. 745 c), 70 ft. long by 45 ft. wide and 67 ft. high, forms a worthy approach to the saloon and state apartments. The exterior (p.745 A) shows the symmetrical lay-out, with the centre block and its imposing Corinthian portico embracing two storeys, flanked by quadrants, and there are four angle turrets to the main structure. The garden facade (p. 745 D), 320 ft. long, has a lighter and more delicate treatment than the somewhat ponderous but imposing entrance facade, satirised by Pope in his reference to Vanbrugh :

"Lie heavy on him, earth, for he
Laid many a heavy load on thee."

Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire (A.D. 1761—65) (p. 746), designed by Brettingham and Paine, was carried out by Robert Adam. The plan (p. 746 D) consists of a central block, 135 ft. by 105 ft., having on the principal floor the great hall, 66 ft. by 51 ft., and saloon on the central axis, with drawing-room, library, music-room, dining-room, and other apartments on either side. Quadrant corridors connect the main building with the kitchen and private wings, and the original design included two similar wings on the south. The hall (p. 746 C, E) is a most imposing apartment, being the whole height of the mansion and having the appearance of an ancient basilica, with colonnades of alabaster Corinthian columns, 25 ft. high, surmounted by a coved ceiling in the Adam style, while the walls have statue niches. The general lay-out (p. 746 A) shows the usual basement storey, the external steps to the principal floor, with its fine central Corinthian portico, and on either side are the wings, which, being lower, give scale and importance to the central block. The south front (p. 746 B) is treated in a lighter vein with curved steps to the garden.

Buckland House, Berks (A.D. 1757–71) (p. 737 L), by John Wood, Junior, has a central block on the model of Prior Park, Bath, with corridors right and left leading to the octagonal chapel and library.

Other examples of this type of mansion are : Latham Hall, Lancashire (A.D. early eighteenth century), by Leoni; Houghton Hall, Norfolk (A.D. 1723), by Colin Campbell; Moor Park, Herts (A.D. 1720), by Leoni; Seaton Delaval, Northumberland (A.D. 1720), by Sir John Vanbrugh ; Holkham Hall, Norfolk (A.D. 1734) (p. 737 J), by William Kent ; Prior Park, Bath (A.D. 1735–43), by John Wood; Sion House, Isleworth (A.D. 1761), and Kenwood House, Hampstead (A.D. 1764), the two last by the Brothers Adam. Stowe House, Buckingham (A.D. 1697), was altered by Robert Adam and others (A.D. 1775), the garden houses and temples being by Vanbrugh. Harewood House, Yorkshire (A.D. 1760), by " Carr of York" (A.D. 1723—1807), is an instance of a mansion designed with wings extending in a straight line on either side of the central block ; while Chatsworth House, Derbyshire (A.D. 1681), by William Talman, is a ducal palace famous for its priceless treasures of art and literature and for the gardens laid out by Paxton.

The Garden House, Poundisford Park (c. A.D. 1675) (p. 747 c), near Taunton, Somerset, is a simple yet pleasing example of garden architecture, such as is to be found in many a country seat of the period.


Many mansions were erected in London, but restrictions of site did not usually permit of the extended treatment adopted for the country, though William Kent, in Devonshire House, Piccadilly (A.D. 1734), made a fine use of this central town site, now unfortunately condemned to serve other purposes. Other great London houses of this period are Chesterfield House (A.D. 1766), by Isaac Ware ; the " Mansion House " (A.D. 1739—53), by George Dance, Senior ; Lansdowne House (A.D. 1765) and Apsley House, Piccadilly (A.D. 1785), by the Brothers Adam (portico added to the latter A.D. 1828), and Carlton House (A.D. 1788) (since destroyed), on the site of the present Waterloo Place, by Henry Holland, who is also responsible for Dover House, Whitehall (A.D. 1754—58). Ely House, Dover Street, London (A.D. 1772), by Sir Robert Taylor, has a typical rusticated street facade.


A number of important churches belong to this period, designed, as by Wren, whose influence was paramount, with central space and surrounding galleries, suitable for the preaching requirements of the Protestant faith.

S. Mary-le-Strand, London (A.D. 1714—27) (p. 748 c), by James Gibbs, was one of the fifty London churches authorised to be built in the reign of Queen Anne, but of which only ten were completed. On an island site in the Strand, it stands conspicuous, and is notable for its fine general proportions, with facades of superimposed Ionic and Corinthian Orders, a semicircular portico and storeyed western steeple, oblong on plan.

S. Martin in the Fields, London (A.D. 1722), is on a similar design by James Gibbs, with great Corinthian portico and western steeple as its principal features.

S. Philip, Birmingham (A.D. 1711-19), now the Cathedral, S. John, Westminster (A.D. 1728), with its four angle turrets, and S. Paul, Deptford (A.D. 1730), are by Thomas Archer, a pupil of Vanbrugh.

S. Mary Woolnoth, London (A.D. 1713—19) (p. 748 D), by Nicholas Hawksmoor, a pupil of Wren, is remarkable for its fortress-like rusticated facade and curious oblong tower with Composite columns surmounted by two low turrets.

Christ Church, Spitalfields (A.D. 1725), with its lofty and unusual western steeple, and S. George, Bloomsbury (A.D. 1720—30), with a pyramidal spire based on the Mausoleum at Halicarnassos (p. 117), surmounted by a statue of King George II, both show the originality of Nicholas Hawksmoor.

S. George, Hanover Square, London (A.D. 1720), by John James, a pupil of Gibbs, is a ponderous edifice whose Corinthian portico, 7o ft. long, serves as a shelter in connection with the numerous weddings solemnised within ; while here for the first time is found a steeple rising from the roof, and without apparent support from the ground. S. Alphege, Greenwich (A.D. 1718), is also by John James.

S. George in the East (A.D. 1729) and S. Anne, Limehouse (A.D. 1712—24), by Hawksmoor, and S. Giles in the Fields (A.D. 1730), by Flitcroft, are other churches of the period.


Civic, social, government, and collegiate requirements had all to be provided for during this period. Town Halls arose, as at Liverpool (A.D. 1754), by Wood of Bath, and at Monmouth (p. 747 E), a wellbalanced public building of the eighteenth century ; Corn Exchanges, as at Rochester (A.D. 1756) ; Law Courts, as the " Four Courts," Dublin (A.D. 1776-86), by Thomas Cooley and James Gandon ; Custom Houses, as in London (A.D. 1813), by David Laing and Sir Robert Smirke, and in Dublin (A.D. 1781, recently destroyed) by James Gandon ; Prisons, such as Newgate (A.D. 1770-82, now demolished) by George Dance, Junior ; Hospitals, such as S. Bartholomew's (A.D. 1730, gateway A.D. 1702) by James Gibbs, S. Luke's Hospital (A.D. 1782) by George Dance, Junior, and additions to Greenwich Hospital (A.D. 1705—15) (p. 716) by Hawksmoor ; and many Banks were erected throughout the country.

The Bank of England, London (A.D. 1795-1827), by Sir John Soane, is unique by reason of its windowless facades in which he employed the Corinthian Order as used for the Temple at Tivoli (p. 146), while he obtained light and shade by columned recesses ; but the building has not now sufficient height to give it due dignity among its neighbours.

The Guildhall, London, dating from the Mediaeval period (p. 398), had a Gothic-like facade (A.D. 1789) built by George Dance, Junior, but it was not until the nineteenth century that Sir Horace Jones restored the Great Hall to its original appearance and added the modern roof (A.D. 1864—70).

The Pelican Life Office, Lombard Street, London, designed by Sir Robert Taylor (A.D. 1714-88), is a scholarly example of commercial architecture.

The Butter Markets, Barnard Castle (A.D. 1747) (p. 747 B), Bungay (A.D. 1789) (p. 747 D), and Ludlow, are examples of the civic buildings on a smaller scale which abound throughout the country towns, and show the full corporate and commercial life of the period.

Clubs were among the types of buildings of this prolific' period and reflect the social life of the times. Boodle's Club, S. James's Street, London (A.D. 1765), by Robert Adam, Brook's Club, London (A.D. 1777), by Henry Holland, and White's Club, London (A.D. 1776), by James Wyatt, were among the first of those palatial clubs for which London was to become famous. The Pantheon, London (A.D. 1770), by James Wyatt, once a fashionable meeting-place, has since been altered, and is now a warehouse.

Hospitals and Almshouses still continued to reflect the wishes of the pious founders, as we have seen in Morden College, Blackheath (A.D. 1695), by Sir Christopher Wren (p. 726). Many of these buildings date from the seventeenth century, and appear to have been executed under the influence of Wren. Amongst these may be mentioned Smyth's Almshouses, Maidenhead (A.D. 1659), Colfe's Almshouses, Lewisham (A.D. 1664), Bromley College, Kent (A.D. 1666), Corsham Almshouses (A.D. 1668), College of Matrons, Salisbury (A.D. 1682), and Trinity Alms-houses, Mile End (A.D. 1695). Trinity Almshouses, Salisbury (A.D. 1702), Fishmongers' Almshouses, Yarmouth (A.D. 1702), and Somerset Hospital, Petworth (A.D. 1748), are some of those which grace the wayside of our country towns.

Government buildings of the period in London include the Old Admiralty, Whitehall (A.D. 1722—26), by Thomas Ripley, and its enclosing street screen (A.D. 1760), by Robert Adam ; the Treasury Buildings (facade to S. James's Park) (A.D. 1734), and Horse Guards (A.D. 1742), by William Kent. The Record Office, Edinburgh (A.D. 1772), is by Robert Adam.

Somerset House, London (A.D. 1776–86) (p. 751 B), by Sir William Chambers, is a grand and dignified building, with a river facade, 600 ft. long, in which rusticated walls carry a Corinthian Order rising through two storeys, pleasingly relieved by colonnades which emphasise the open courts.

Architectural design was not practised only on single and detached buildings. Monumental street architecture was also successfully carried out, as by the Woods at Bath between the years A.D. 1720 and 178o (p. 704) . Unity of design, as applied to street facades, is also well exemplified by the Brothers Adams in Fitzroy Square (A.D. 1790) and the Adelphi, London.

Collegiate buildings received many important additions and numerous effective examples of the period are to be seen in the universities.

The Radcliffe Library, Oxford (A.D. 1737–47) (p. 748 A), by James Gibbs—probably his finest work—is monumental in character, with a rusticated sixteen-sided ground storey, having alternately pedimented arched openings and niches, while the upper portion is circular, 100 ft. in diameter, with two storeys of windows and niches alternately, included in one Order of coupled Corinthian columns, supporting entablature and balustrade, behind which a high drum with eight buttresses supports the lead-covered dome and lantern.

The Gateway, Queen's College, Oxford (A.D. 1710) (p. 748 B), is an effective and original composition by Nicholas Hawksmoor, a pupil of Wren. It has an archway flanked by rusticated Tuscan columns supporting an entablature, surmounted by a circular canopy borne on eight pairs of Doric columns, with entablatures supporting arched drum and cupola crowned by a finial, all enclosing a statue of Queen Anne.

The Senate House, Cambridge (A.D. 1722–30) (p. 751 A), is an imposing building by James Gibbs. Two storeys are included in a single Order of Corinthian pilasters, coupled at ends, and centre-piece of four half-columns surmounted by a sculptured pediment, flanked by balustrades, while the sash windows of the ground storey are headed by alternately triangular and segmental pediments, the upper windows being round-headed. The whole has a unity of composition and is rich yet reposeful in effect.

Among other important collegiate buildings of this period may be mentioned : At Oxford the Radcliffe Observatory (A.D. 1772), by Robert Adam, and the North Quadrangle of All Souls' College (A.D. 1720–35), by Nicholas Hawksmoor, date from this period. At Cambridge there are the University Library (A.D. 1754–58) by Stephen Wright, and portions of other colleges. Trinity College, Dublin (A.D. 1780), was altered by Sir William Chambers, and Edinburgh University (A.D. 1778) is by Robert Adam.

Bridges of architectural character, as Richmond Bridge (A.D. 1780) and Kew Bridge (A.D. 1782), both designed by James Paine, now joined up the busy districts on either side of the Thames. Waterloo Bridge (A.D. 1811-17), of which Sir John Rennie was engineer, shows the influence of the Greek revival.

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